Lessons From The Prodigal

The past week was tough, on many levels.  I’d like to say I handled it all with grace and patience, remained firm and did not give in to temptations.  But by the end of the week, I knew I had been beaten and felt it.  Time to visit Jesus, the great Physician, in the sacrament of confession.

As a former Protestant, I remember life without the sacrament of confession and am so utterly grateful to now have access to this sacrament.  But that doesn’t always make going easier.  However, there are so many graces that come from regular and frequent confession.  In the confessional, we meet Jesus one-on-one.  He sits and listens as we admit our failings.  He already knows them, but humans have a need to speak them, like exposing a festering wound to a doctor for it to be cleansed and properly treated so it can heal.  Sometimes the priest may ask a question or two to help us pinpoint the problem and offer counsel, like a skilled surgeon.  Again, it may not be comfortable, but it’s often necessary.  And then, once we have exposed these dark places with humility and contrition, we hear Jesus say through the priest, “I absolve you…” 

At times, like many others, I feel I’m confessing certain things again and again, and I am frustrated.  Yesterday was one of those times.  But after confession, as I sat in the chapel going over the readings for Sunday, I was struck anew with a portion of the Gospel reading.  We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son.  We often focus on the ending when his father welcomes him back to his house with joy and celebration.  What struck me more deeply was the fact this is a story of being welcomed back with great mercy.  This son knew his father, his house, the many riches and blessings he enjoyed while living there as his son.  Yet, he rejected it all, demanded his inheritance (in essence, told his father he wished he were dead), and left the shelter of his father’s house to make his own way in the world. 

The story illustrates there are always consequences to our decisions.  We fashion our own chains when we choose to abandon the shelter of God’s will and seek to make our own way.  The prodigal son took the wealth his father offered him and squandered it on things he thought would make him happy.  But in the end, he was left abandoned and alone.  The only work he could get was feeding slop to pigs and he was so hungry, he wished he could share their food; but no one offered him anything to ease his situation. 

Yet this is also a story of great mercy.  The father must have been actively watching for his son, because we are told that while the son was still some distance away, the father took off at a run to meet him.  What’s more, this would not have been proper in Jesus’ time – a father, especially one who was highly respected and having material wealth, did not run to meet anyone, especially a wayward son.  Yet, here we have Jesus telling us how our heavenly Father waits for us, watches for us, longs for us to turn back to Him so He can run and meet us.  Like Moses for the people of Israel, Jesus intercedes for us, and God waits patiently in the confessional.  This is the forgiveness and mercy He offers.

The_Prodigal_SonToo often, we beat ourselves up for falling into the same mud pit time and again.  We wearily get up and turn toward home, resolved to ask to be allowed back as a servant, just hoping God will not throw up His hands in exasperation.  We wonder, “What can I possibly offer God?”  Yesterday’s psalm provides the answer, one which is repeated every morning by the Church in the day’s first prayers: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”  The psalmist continues, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”

In the second reading yesterday, St. Paul also reminds us of the sins he committed, which included blasphemy, arrogance, and the persecution of others, and of the great patience and goodness of Jesus: “Indeed the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”  St. Paul goes on: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost.  But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.  To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.”

I humbly ask for your continued prayers that as I continue this journey, I would persevere in His will.  I pray that God would use me as an example of His grace and mercy, as He deems fitting.  I pray for those who are still wandering, that they may turn toward Him and come to know His never-ending love and goodness. 

I keep you in my prayers as well.  If you have any specific intentions you’d like me to keep in prayer, please feel free to contact me.  May God be praised for his grace and mercy!

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